Thursday, November 3, 2016
Disparities in Advanced Coursetaking by Current and Former English Learner Students
Current and former English Learner (EL) students face more obstacles in taking and succeeding in advanced courses compared with students who have never been English learners. However, a new report by Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest shows that much of that difference is due to academic preparation and access to advanced courses.
The study examined patterns in advanced course enrollment and performance in Washington state among current EL students and those who have been reclassified as English proficient within the last two school years (monitored) and more than two school years ago (former). The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction worked with REL Northwest in an effort to better understand the challenges and meet the needs of current and former EL students.
Among current, monitored, and former EL students, there are substantial differences in advanced course enrollment and the grades students earned in those courses. However, the findings conclude that academic preparation accounts for much of the differences. In fact, the study finds that the grades that current, monitored, and former EL students earn in advanced courses are similar to those of never–EL students after students’ prior academic performance is taken into account.
The study also finds that schools that serve many EL students tend not to offer as many advanced courses compared with schools that serve fewer EL students, even after school characteristics such as size, grade point average, and performance on state assessments are taken into account.
Taking advanced high school courses (for example, honors, Advanced Placement, and dual-credit courses that offer college credits in high school) can help prepare students for postsecondary education and careers. English learner students, however, face unique obstacles to taking advanced courses because they must divide their time between acquiring English proficiency and learning academic content.
This descriptive study examines patterns in advanced coursetaking among current and former English learner students and never-English learner students in Washington state. Using state data about students enrolled in Washington public schools between 2009/10 and 2012/13, this study analyzed advanced course enrollment patterns and performance among the groups of students.
It finds that where students attend school and their academic preparation account for much of the difference in advanced coursetaking. Specifically, current and former English learner students take 0.5 to 1 fewer advanced courses per school year than their never-English learner peers but enroll in advanced classes at similar rates when they are similarly prepared.
The study also found that, compared to never-English learner students, current and former English learner students are 40 to 50 percent less likely to complete algebra I in middle school and students who pass this course in middle school take more than twice as many upper-level math courses as students who pass algebra I in grade 9. Current, former, and never-English learner students earn similar grades in those upper-level math courses.
In addition, schools with the lowest percentages of current and former English learner students offer more advanced courses than other schools, even after accounting for school characteristics such as average standardized math and reading test scores. To improve access to advanced courses, schools, districts, and state agencies could consider investigating why current and former English learner students with high grade point averages or state math test scores are not enrolling in advanced courses as often as never-English learner students. They also might address language barriers and restrictive policies that could deter otherwise qualified students from taking advanced courses and expand advanced coursetaking opportunities at schools with high percentages of English learner students.